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Welcome to the December 8, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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AWS Outage Ripples Through U.S.
Financial Times
Dave Lee
December 7, 2021

An outage of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Tuesday angered millions of U.S. users who found application-linked products and services like Tinder, robot vacuums, and Ticketmaster bookings for Adele's upcoming Las Vegas show hobbled. Amazon cited an "impairment of several network devices" in its U.S.-EAST-1 server region as the "root cause," while Servaas Verbiest at cloud disaster recovery provider Sungard Availability Services said, "If you've embraced the [cloud] ecosystem, and you've got everything in AWS, you're in a sit-and-wait scenario." The interruption underlined the degree to which many popular services rely on cloud infrastructure managed by a small number of companies.

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Illustration of a patient. Medical Records Data Offers Doctors Hope of Better Patient Care
The Wall Street Journal
Ron Winslow
December 3, 2021

Researchers are tapping massive electronic health record (EHR) databases to improve patient diagnoses through advances in artificial intelligence, search capabilities, and other analytics. "You can get a lot of outcomes information from medical records that can help change care for individual patients," said Jackie Gerhart with EHR system maker Epic Systems. More than 80% of U.S. hospitals and physician practices maintain computerized patient records, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)'s Clifford Hudis believes harnessing the data in those records can enhance clinical care. Hudis said standardized reporting is critical for ensuring patient records' quality and accuracy.

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A researcher reads data from an oscilloscope. Researchers Develop Algorithm to Increase Efficiency of Quantum Computers
University of Helsinki (Finland)
Paavo Ihalainen
December 7, 2021

A collaboration between researchers at Finland's University of Helsinki (UH), Aalto University, and University of Turku, with colleagues at Switzerland's IBM Research Europe-Zurich, has yielded a scheme to boost quantum computers' speed and efficiency. The researchers developed an algorithm that uses a generalized class of quantum measurements adapted throughout the calculation to extract data retained in the quantum state efficiently. This lowers the number of iterations required, as well as the time and computational energy needed, to achieve highly precise simulations. "We make the most out of every sample by combining all data produced," said UH's Guillermo García-Pérez.

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Framework Will Improve the Security of All Firefox Users
UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
December 6, 2021

Mozilla has started deploying a new framework designed to make the Firefox browser more secure on all Firefox platforms. Developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), University of Texas at Austin, and Mozilla, the RLBox framework increases browser security by sandboxing third-party libraries that are vulnerable to attacks from the rest of the browser. It has two main components: the sandboxing technique itself, and a tainted type system. Said UCSD's Deian Stefan, “To deal with such sophisticated attackers, we need multiple layers of defense and new techniques to minimize how much code we need to trust (to be secure). We designed RLBox exactly for this."

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An illustration of fragmented blockchains. How Can We Get Blockchains to Talk to Each Other?
IEEE Spectrum
Edd Gent
December 3, 2021

Stefan Schulte and colleagues at Austria's Vienna University of Technology are exploring communication between blockchains. The researchers developed a potential solution that relies on blockchain relays, smart contracts operating on one blockchain that can confirm events on another. The researchers have come up with an on-demand verification system, in which the relay assumes transactions between blockchains are valid unless they are disputed. Fraudulent submissions are discouraged because third parties must offer a cryptocurrency stake to participate, which disputants can seize if they prove invalidity.

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Mobile Weed Killer for Tree Nurseries
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Germany)
December 1, 2021

Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA partnered with Bosch and KommTek to develop a mobile robot system that tree nurseries could deploy to remove weeds without the use of herbicides. The AMU-Bot, an autonomous caterpillar robot equipped with optical sensors, removes weeds with rotary harrows as it drives between rows of saplings. It uses LiDAR scanners to generate a three-dimensional (3D) point cloud of its environment to determine the positions of plants or trees, and to navigate the area. Fraunhofer's Kevin Bregler described weed removal as "rather complex. There are various approaches that can be taken: grubbing, cutting, hoeing, flaming, or treating the weeds with herbicides. However, herbicides are no longer popular, especially in ecological agriculture and for tree nurseries or orchards. Our method completely avoids the use of chemicals."

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Saving Patients an Unnecessary Procedure
McGill University - Neuro (Canada)
December 6, 2021

An international team of researchers created a Web-based application that doctors can use to spare epileptic patients an invasive diagnostic procedure if it can be shown to be unnecessary. The researchers formulated a regression model, which they applied to 128 people who had undergone stereo-electroencephalography (SEEG), the implantation of electrodes into the brain to pinpoint the source of seizures. The regression model, known as 5-SENSE, distinguished between patients whose SEEG identified a defined seizure source and those that did not. The researchers validated those results on a larger patient cohort from multiple tertiary epilepsy centers, and found it could reliably forecast patients in whom SEEG could not identify a focal seizure onset zone.

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Radar Sensor Technology for Intelligent Multimodal Traffic Monitoring at Intersections
National Institute for Transportation and Communities
December 1, 2021

University of Arizona (UA) researchers have designed a prototype high-resolution millimeter-wave (mmWave) radar sensor for intelligent multimodal traffic monitoring. The sensor measures the counts, speed, and direction of vehicles and pedestrians, regardless of lighting and weather conditions. UA's Siyang Cao said, "The mmWave radar is also different from other sensors in that it can provide relatively stable radial velocity, which is very helpful for us to identify the speed of vehicles.” The researchers developed a multivariate Gaussian mixture model to interpret the information from the mmWave radar sensor. The model first acquires a radar point cloud representation, then segments the point clouds into pedestrians, sedans, and non-moving surfaces or "clutter," and routes the data stream wirelessly to a laptop for visual display.

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The Microsoft logo on a building. Microsoft Seizes 42 Websites From Chinese Hacking Group
The New York Times
Kellen Browning
December 6, 2021

Microsoft on Monday announced the seizure of 42 Websites from Chinese hacking group Nickel in order to disrupt the gang's intelligence-gathering operations. The company said it had been tracking Nickel since 2016, and is rerouting the sites' traffic to secure Microsoft servers. The software giant said Nickel's attacks were intended to install malware for surveillance and data theft; the group was alleged to be besieging organizations in 29 countries, and was suspected of using compromised data "for intelligence gathering from government agencies, think tanks, universities, and human rights organizations," according to Microsoft's Tom Burt. A federal court in Virginia issued a temporary restraining order against the hackers, and turned the Websites over to Microsoft.

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SMART Researchers Develop Method to Detect Bacterial Crop Infection
MIT News
November 30, 2021

Researchers at the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and Singapore's Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory have developed a tool for detecting and measuring early bacterial crop infection. The researchers tested their diagnostic algorithm on edible plants such as choy sum and found, said principal investigator Rajani Sarojam, that it could “swiftly detect and quantify innate immunity response in plants infected with bacterial pathogens.” SMART's Gajendra Pratap Singh said the algorithm is "more effective than existing techniques as it enables accurate identification and early detection of bacterial infection, both of which are crucial to saving crop plants that would otherwise be destroyed."

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An illustration of deep learning, represented by the brain. Deep Learning Makes Nanoscale Designs More Robust Against Defects
Penn State College of Engineering News
Gabrielle Stewart
December 7, 2021

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) researchers have developed a deep learning technique to make nanoscale metasurface designs more resilient. The researchers used optimizer software to virtually assess designs and suggest new iterations based on the most successful configurations; they could impose limits on minimum feature sizes in metasurface components according to the constraints of the nanofabrication technique. The resulting data then was fed into a deep learning model trained to forecast the effect of manufacturing defects on performance. The model applied this knowledge to ascertain the optimized designs' robustness to defects, which was input to the optimizer, yielding high-performance designs. Penn State's Sawyer Campbell said, "By implementing fabrication errors on the simulation side in advance, we can enable more freeform designs that have been shown in simulations to achieve extremely high performance."

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The CVS Pharmacy logo. CVS Health, Microsoft Bring 'Digital First' Care to Customers
Bruce Japsen
December 2, 2021

A five-year partnership agreement between CVS Health and Microsoft aims to "reimagine personalized care" and provide more customized health recommendations to CVS customers and health plan members, including mobile alerts for cancer screenings and reminders for those at risk of skin cancer to purchase sunscreen. Goals of the partnership include enabling front-line employees to use Microsoft Teams to improve the customer experience, using Microsoft's Azure cognitive services to automate some tasks, and using cloud computing services to migrate applications running on on-site servers to Azure. CVS Health's Karen Lynch said, "It's really about that mobility about having your health information available at your fingertips and allowing us as a company to be a part of your digital health."

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Intelligent Computing for Interactive System Design
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